The awards handed out at the Tampa Bay Sports Commission’s second annual Sneaker Soiree Thursday night were aplenty.
And at the receiving end of a number of them was none other than the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The event, hosted at the TPepin Hospitality Centre in Tampa, serves as a celebration of both amateur and professional athletes, their teams, and the significant impact each has on its community.
Following the event, there certainly was a lot to celebrate.
Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke was named sports executive of the year for his contributions not only to the Lightning organization, but also for its fans and the local citizens residing around the Bay Area. The Bolts also took home additional awards for having the year’s best sports and entertainment facility at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, providing the best fan experience, and for possessing an exceptional Foundation, which continues to partner with dedicated patrons and non-profit organizations to make a difference in the community through charitable contributions to worthy causes.
“When you look at the fabric and makeup of any major city, sports plays a tremendous role in helping people identify with their region,” Lightning COO Steve Griggs said. “Fans give to us – they come to games, they give their time, their money – and it’s important that as public entities, we give back to every single one of them.”
The highlight of the evening came when executives from all three of the area’s major professional sports franchises, including the Lightning, Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, got together for a roundtable discussion in which each fielded questions about their respective areas of expertise. It was in that particular setting in which Bolts general manager Steve Yzerman credited team owner Jeff Vinik for the Lightning’s success, both on and off the ice, with sentiments echoed by head coach Guy Boucher following the conclusion of the event.
“As an organization, it’s always been our goal to be part of the community and to make people feel like a part of our group also,” Boucher said. “[To win these awards] is an honor, but more than that, I think it shows that we’re fitting right in with Mr. Vinik’s leadership, his vision of giving back and that the entire organization is striving to be a part of something bigger than itself.”
Yzerman also briefly addressed a few of the current issues facing the team this summer concerning moves within the hockey operations department, which includes the search for a bona fide number-one goaltender. Joining Yzerman at the question and answer session were also Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik and Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman.
In addition, the elegant affair posthumously paid tribute to three Tampa Bay sports icons whose legacy of community service continues to resonate throughout the Bay Area: Bucs Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, University of Tampa quarterback and two-time Super Bowl champion Freddie Solomon, and former Tampa Tribune sports editor and columnist Tom McEwen.
Awards for dedication to the community, as well as one for moral courage, were established by the TBSC in the names of both McEwen and Solomon, respectively. Selmon, too, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award.